Employee Wellness Initiative or Data Tracking

Is the idea of buying Fitbits, Apple Watches or other gizmos a part of your employee wellness program? Are you also interested in the data that will be generated by those gizmos to inform what kinds of wellness programs should be initiated for your employees? (For example, you see that 60% of your employees are inactive so start a steps-per-day challenge, or you see 5% of staff run once a week so let’s create a running group that runs after work three times a week) Or health plan perks? (For example, 30% of employees are having disrupted sleep so let’s put on a mindfulness program for people to do at home to help them sleep better.)

And with tracking technology already being worn for fitness, what if you can also tell that ten of your employees go outside the building four times a day for 15 minutes at a time… Are they taking smoking breaks? Should you try to put on that smoking cessation program again?

Now you’re only a “step” away from finding out how active employees are while working on the shop floor? Can that be part of your performance management data? Can you monitor several employees at once without even needing to be on-site all the time?

Sound enticing? Many employers think so.

Amazon just bought a patent for such technology. Wearable technology to be worn on employees’ wrists. It is designed to emit small vibrations to the wearer to correct their physical movements to improve productivity. For example, if a warehouse employee moves to place an item in the wrong bin, the wristband vibrates to correct the employee’s action.

Another company, Three Square Market in Wisconsin said more than 50 employees agreed to receive microchip implants to get through secure doors and purchase food. It will be interesting to see where that goes.

Personally, it makes me uncomfortable. Are employers turning people into Pavlov’s dogs? Or robots? I’d rather train employees well and have them actually think and use judgement. Are employees going to get things wrong now and again? Of course. Do we need to have knowledge of how often an employee goes to the washroom? Not really.

Instead, set expectations for results. Set goals and measurable targets and then be sure to monitor. Take a coaching approach rather than a “catching” one.

The old-fashioned MBWA – Management by Walking Around (I prefer “walking” to “wondering”) – has been tried, tested, and is true. For physical workplaces, here are a few tips:

  1. Do it regularly – not just at review time or year-end for example
  2. Avoid making a show about it – less in the MBWA parade is better
  3. Visit everyone – not just the easy to see employees or the ones that need to be watched
  4. Ask for feedback along your way – find out your employees’ thoughts
  5. Follow up on feedback – if you ask you must follow-up; if you don’t ask, accept stagnation
  6. Coach instead of critique – there is a time and place for discipline, and approaching discipline in public is a mistake; instead look for ways to positively recognize employees or seek for coachable moments

(For more tips, here is a good resource: Management by Walking Around (MBWA) – The Essential Guide https://www.cleverism.com/management-by-walking-around-mbwa/)

For remote workplaces, connect regularly through instant messaging (Slack is my favourite right now). Ask for updates on projects. Have scrum meetings virtually. And make sure that employees know what the expectations are for work performance/results.

So before you strap training bracelets on employees, tap into fitness gizmo data, and long before you consider inserting microchips, determine the purpose of your initiative for wellness, etc. and be transparent with your employees. Ensure they know what they are signing up for, and make sure that YOU understand your responsibility to protect the data.